While the New Jersey Devils haven’t won a Stanley Cup championship since 2002-03, Jersey’s team has a rich history of notable skaters that have donned a red and black sweater.
The franchise witnessed some of its all-time greats win multiple Stanley Cups, but then there are other familiar NHL names that never hoisted Lord Stanley in the Garden State after forgettable stints.
Here are three Devils players that you’ve probably forgotten about.
Hockey Hall of Famer Igor Larionov is one of the more notable Russian-born skaters in NHL history. The former centerman was a member of the Soviet Union Olympic team in 1983-84 and in 1987-88, and eventually made a historic transition to the NHL. (from ‘Former NHL centre Igor Larionov, The Professor, says league nowadays stifles players’ creativity — and he’s right,’ National Post, 02/23/2015)
After stints with the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks, Larionov landed in Hockeytown with the Detroit Red Wings. “The Professor” and the Wings earned a Stanley Cup dynasty together after winning three Cups from 1996-97 through 2001-02. Larionov is most remembered for his tenure with the Red Wings after dressing in 539 regular-season games.
However, there’s no doubt that a majority of fans forgot that the 1985 draft-pick skated in his final season during the 2003-04 campaign with the Devils.
Larionov’s NHL career typically entailed recording anywhere from 40-to-60 points a season, while dressing in a majority of games. That wasn’t the case in New Jersey after he signed via unrestricted free agency.
The then-43-year-old recorded 11 points in just 49 games played with the Devils that season and was often a healthy scratch. It seemed that one of hockey’s more notable skaters from the 1980s and 1990s lost interest and enthusiasm in not only playing hockey but running with the Devils.
Keep in mind that New Jersey hoped to repeat as Stanley Cup champions, and still held a Cup-contending roster. Larionov’s lackluster efforts, the team losing in the first round of the playoffs and not winning a cup with the Devils, are all big reasons why he’s inked on this list.
Larionov retired from the NHL after his tough season in New Jersey and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008.
Similar to Larionov, Sean O’Donnell was another former Devils player who was acquired one season after New Jersey won a Stanley Cup.
The defenseman was acquired by the Devils from the expansion Minnesota Wild around the 2000-01 NHL Trade Deadline. While the 1991 sixth-round draft pick eventually transformed into a top-two defenseman in the league, his brief stint with New Jersey is nothing shy of forgettable.
O’Donnell dressed in 17 regular-season contests with New Jersey prior to the Devils’ Cup run, which ended with a dramatic Game 7 loss to the Colorado Avalanche. (from ‘How the Colorado Avalanche has historically fared in Game 7s,’ Denver Post, 05/08/2019) Considering that New Jersey entailed the likes of Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, Brian Rafalski, Colin White and Ken Daneyko on defense, the 6-foot-2 blueliner was overshadowed by a memorable cast.
While O’Donnell eventually won a Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2006-07, he was still establishing himself as a quality defenseman when he joined the Devils and was viewed more as a depth skater rather than a top-two blueliner.
He’s also one of the most forgotten Devils because he wasn’t re-signed by the team during the 2001 offseason — let’s not forget that New Jersey ended up winning its third Cup in 2002-03 right after his departure. Anytime a team wins with a different group of players there are former skaters that get lost in the midst.
It was also no easy task for defensemen to establish themselves as notable skaters on the Devils when New Jersey had Hockey Hall of Famers such as Stevens and Niedermayer. It’s also fair to say that O’Donnell was forgotten in Devils history because he was primarily skating in the Western Conference with the Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, (then) Phoenix Coyotes and Chicago Blackhawks after his brief tenure in New Jersey.
After the Detroit Red Wings drafted Dan McGillis in the 10th round of the 1992 NHL Draft, the defenseman progressed as a solid skater in the league during the 1990s and early 2000s.
New Jersey fans remember McGillis most when he was a member of the Philadelphia Flyers from 1997-98 until 2002-03. Those were prime years for the (then) Atlantic Division rivals, and also entailed a historic comeback from the Devils in the 1999-00 Eastern Conference Final against McGillis and the City of Brotherly Love.
Similar to Larionov, the notable skater from the 1990s and early 2000s ended his career in forgettable fashion after joining the Devils for the 2005-06 campaign. By that time, McGillis was 33 years old and past his prime playing days.
The veteran was acquired to be a depth blueliner for a Cup-contending Devils team that earned another Atlantic Division title that season. However, McGillis only dressed in 27 regular-season games while recording a mere six helpers.
The 6-foot-3 blueliner established himself as a tough-nosed, stay-at-home defenseman prior to his forgettable tenure with New Jersey. He was a shell of himself after the 2004-05 NHL lockout, and McGillis dressed in his final NHL game in late December.
Most fans might think that he was one of those notorious skaters that must have won a Stanley Cup during the 1990s, but he actually never earned a Cup ring. It was unfortunate to see McGillis’ career end the way it did.
His style of play would have arguably complemented New Jersey and captain Scott Stevens when the Devils were Stanley Cup contenders season after season. Fans have to wonder if joining the Devils earlier than 2005-06 would have benefited McGillis’ career and New Jersey.
Hopefully, the Devils can erase their ongoing struggles and provide fans with longer-lasting, positive memories once the NHL resumes action again.
Kyle McKenna is a social media specialist & freelancer who also covers the NHL for Elite Sports New York, Fansided & Hooked On Hockey Magazine.